updated 5/7/2004 12:22:55 PM ET 2004-05-07T16:22:55

Riverside County and disabled voters sued the state election chief over his order limiting electronic balloting, saying it violates the right to vote secretly.

The federal lawsuit, filed Thursday, also argued that paper-based voting costs more and has higher rates of error.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued the ban April 30, citing errors during March 2 elections in counties that had recently switched to electronic voting.

The order barred Diebold touch-screen voting machines in four counties and said electronic voting could continue in 10 other counties that use different systems only if they were modified.

Peter Benavidez, a partially blind voter who is among the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times for Friday’s editions that to use a paper ballot he must tell a poll worker his selection. With electronic voting, he slips on headphones, listens to the options and selects a candidate by pressing a button.

Riverside County, one of the 10 counties where changes were required, has used its system in 29 elections without problems since becoming the state’s first county to embrace touch-screen ballots in 2002, said Mischelle Townsend, the county’s voter registrar.

Townsend called Shelley’s order “a huge step backward.”

Local officials said the changes required for approval — such as providing backup paper ballots for voters who request them — are costly or unnecessary.

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